Montessori Parenting: what if my child only likes to climb?

My child only wants to climb! What do I do?

I have been asked this question so many times. Parents discover the Montessori philosophy. They see cute trays on shelves, they imagine their child “working” with focus with lovely Montessori material.

Then their child only wants to climb on and off the sofa. They turn the baskets of material upside down and jump on it. They might even climb on the shelves.

I have parents, in my playgroup, apologizing when their children want to leave the session to run in the garden. The room where I run my playgroup overlooks a lovely ground. Unfortunately, I cannot provide direct access to the garden, and it’s not a fenced and secured space.

But I totally understand that some children don’t want to spend 1 hour and a half in the playgroup. I provide some climbing stones, a pop-up tunnel, a soft ball, and opportunities to practice gross motor skills but sometimes, it’s not enough.

Children under the age of 6 go through some “sensitive periods of learning”. They need to practice again and again the same skill until they have mastered it. Climbing is one of those skills that concern parents.

But climbing has many benefits:

It improves dexterity: they develop their fine motor skills, grip, and grasp. Ultimately those skills will help children to hold a pencil correctly and will help with handwriting. 

It develops the child’s confidence:

Through trial and error and safe risk-taking, your child will improve his confidence, will master his fears, and take on new challenges every day. If he can climb to the top of the climbing frame, he can do anything!

It builds up your child’s physical strength.

It’s an opportunity for problems solving when approaching new climbing challenges, your child will develop critical thinking skills when discovering different routes to climb. They will have to figure out where to place their feet and hand, how high can they go, how to get down… 

Young boy playing at a playground

Safe Risk Taking

If you provide safe but challenging climbing opportunities, you will allow your child to manage and assess risk, which is an important life skill to learn from a young age. In fact, they have been many studies on risky play. 

Now, that you know the benefits, you may feel more comfortable to let your child climb as much as she wants. But what about safety?

Also, for a parent, having one child totally into climbing or being very physical can be exhausting. I will not lie; it was enjoyable to have a daughter into puzzles and colouring. It was more tiring to have a second child into running, climbing and playing football. My son still climbs the banisters of the stairs like a monkey and is always on the move. 

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So, what do you do when your child is only happy climbing?

1. There is nothing wrong:

Children need to master all their body skills before they can sit still.
It’s why it’s so difficult for them to sit down if they go to school. Children are on the move, and it’s normal. I would even say, be happy that your child’s physical needs are strong and that it challenges you to provide for these very fundamental needs.

Maria Montessori said: “Respect all reasonable kind of activities and try to understand them.”

2. Provide safe climbing options:

Now that you know that your child’s needs to climb are “normal,” give him more “safe” opportunities.

Can you have an indoor climbing frame? A Pickler triangle? A wall climbing frame? What about taking the cushions from the sofa on the floor for an obstacles course?
Go to the park or to the garden first thing in the morning. Fulfill his needs for climbing then he might be more inclined to enjoy a quiet activity when you can relax with your coffee.

3. Reinforce the safety limits:

It is also ok to set up some limits. Its’ not because your child likes to climb that you have to let him climb on the furniture, even if they are secured to the walls. Make sure that you have a safe alternative and that you are ready to handle the tantrum that will follow. The desire to climb is like an urge, and your child is not “a bad boy” for wanting to do it again after you have told him that it’s unsafe.

4. Teach your child to climb down

If safety is still a concern, when your child climbs the structure at the playground, teach them how to go down safely. Show and say, “Go down feet first. Lie on your belly and slowly slide down until your feet touch the floor”.

5. Provide other gross motor skills opportunities

Children who like to climb are obviously more physical. Some children learn better through kinetic experience. Do you continuously shift in your seat? Do you like to bounce a ball against the wall while chatting on the phone with a customer? Did you learn your lesson walking around your bedroom? Some of us need to move more than others. If you have one child like that, you will have to provide many physical opportunities to play: trolley to push, box to fill in with heavy stuff, go to a toddler football class, go swimming, go to the indoor playgroup. I used to have an indoor Ikea slide next to my daughter’s bed. We spent so many afternoons jumping from the slide to the bed!

6. Take care of your own needs:

There are only so many football games I can take. So in our family, my husband is the one offering sport play. I am not a fan of the playground, so I take my children for long walks in the wood instead. And their dad will be the one to take everybody out while I stay cozily inside.
I find it easier to go to the playground if I was going with friends, it was a way to cover my needs and my children’s needs. If you are aware of your own needs, you will find ways to satisfy your child’s needs and your own. 

Now you may need more ideas so download this handy list and enjoy this climbing phase!

About the Author Carine Robin

Carine Robin has a Master’s Degree in Psychology, specialising in child psychology. She worked for various social services in her home country of Belgium, before moving to Ireland in 2006. It was there that she started working in a nursery and discovered Montessori education. After having her first child, her passion for the philosophy grew and she qualified as a Montessori teacher and managed a preschool. Carine has been running a Montessori based parents and toddler group and coaching families for 9 years. She now also runs an online group for over 14000 parents, sharing her knowledge and passion with people from around the world. In 2018, Carine realised families needed more support and launched her popular online parenting courses and monthly subscription boxes, full of personally designed Montessori materials.